The Palestinian NGOs Network of has organized a workshop to present the results and recommendations of the "National Agricultural Sector Policies and Situation Analysis Report" study, which was prepared by a group of experts.
The workshop was attended by the Ministry of Agriculture and agricultural NGOs' representatives as well as experts from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Amjad Al-Shawa, PNGO director, opened the workshop by stressing the importance of the study, since it reviews the reality of agricultural policies in Palestine. One of the study's dimensions is related to the trends of agricultural work that enhance the steadfastness of farmers and contributes to the development of the agricultural sector. The cruciality of this study lies in terms of facing the Israeli occupation and settlements under the complex conditions experienced by our Palestinian people and the increasing Israeli attacks against farmers and the agricultural sector as a whole.
Al Shawa praised the study authors, the advisory committee, and thanked everyone who contributed to preparing such an enriching study.
For his part, Muhammad Al-Bakri, PNGO Agricultural Sector Coordinator, stressed the importance of the recommendations and results of the study, especially as they bear important directions for agricultural policies, food security, and national sovereignty over food sources.
For his part, Dr. Nabil Abu Shammala, one of the study authors, explained that the Israeli occupation imposes geospatial and economic policies aimed at fragmenting the Palestinian lands and controlling its economy. These actions, in numerous ways, hindered the enforcement of Palestinian agricultural policies that lack most of the components for sovereignty, institutional and financial support.
In the same context, the study called for implementing the National Food Safety Strategy and provide its necessary funding. Focusing on the comprehensive rural development program and adopting new development approaches such as the agricultural clusters program in the West Bank and Gaza were also vital points.
The study continued to urge the use of modern technology to increase productivity and stressed the importance of supporting local and national products and protect it from dumping through increased coordination among the relevant authorities to stop smuggling the Israeli products into the Palestinian market.
The study was a part of the project "Strengthening PNGO Advocacy, Policy and Communications Capacities" implemented in partnership with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, calling for activating laws supporting the agricultural sector, including the tax refund law.
Furthermore, the study indicated that most of the agricultural lands and water resources (underground reservoirs, springs, and wells) are located in Area (C) classified according to the Oslo Agreement, which is subject to Israeli sovereignty. According to that, the Israeli side can implement its expansion policies that impede the implementation of Palestinian agricultural policies, which lack successful implementation factors including sovereignty and institutional and financial support.
The study, entitled "Agricultural Policies in the Face of Geopolitical Challenges and Internal Obstacles," considered that these factors led to a decline in the competitiveness of the agricultural sector, which is a decline in its contribution to the GDP. Besides, it constitutes a downfall regarding its added value, which witnessed limited growth in the West Bank and a marked decline in The Gaza Strip in recent years. The results of that led to a decline in the profitability of farmers that pushed them abandoned their land and seeking work in the occupied territories, creating a major reduction of the demographic balance in the Palestinian countryside and the agricultural and rural development, as well.
Moreover, the study touched on the efficiency and effectiveness of agricultural policies and strategies in facing various challenges, whether related to facing settlement, Judaization, annexation plans, internal challenges, and the ability to achieve sustainable agricultural development goals. The list extends to the role of support institutions, financial and tax policies, as well as lending and protection policies in support of agricultural strategies.
The study, in its angles, sought to examine the effectiveness of agricultural policies and their ability to face geopolitical and resource challenges, in terms of scarcity and difficult-access. Also, the work of the researchers studied national policies and plans and the extent of their support for agricultural policy, and the role of other sectoral policies in supporting agricultural policy.
On top of that, the research elucidated that the experts in all the workshops that were held in the presence and participation of agricultural institutions representatives unanimously agreed on the inconsistency in agricultural policies between Gaza and the West Bank. This, in turn, weakens the position of any of those policies and reduces the chances of generalizing them and mobilizing the necessary funding for their implementation.
Adding to that, the study indicated that most of the institutions operating in the agricultural sector, including the Ministry of Agriculture itself, suffer from a weakness in their organizational structure.
The study pointed out that there is a lack of agricultural information, as there was no agricultural census done of any kind since 2010, which means that agricultural areas and holdings have not been updated in a decade. Besides, there is a lack of agricultural import data due to smuggling, as well as a lack of information related to groundwater.
The study continued to shed light on the Ministry of Agriculture, especially in the Gaza Strip, in terms of suffering from a shortage in technical specialties, such as soil and water experts and in all laboratory specialties. The shortage reaches its peak in mentors and training, especially in the Gaza Strip, which has been under siege since 2007.
The study considered that the role of civil society organizations and private sector institutions is active and has an impact on the development of the agricultural sector, but they need more involvement and coordination.
The study put on display the reality of the Jordan Valley and classified (C) regions, indicating that the expansion of the cultivation of some crops without planning in the Jordan Valley, such as the palm trees, for example, was at the expense of water sources that are likely to be private. Adding more to the issue, there is wrongful exploitation of the Jordan Valley farmers for the issue of exemption from electricity and water costs.
Financial Support, Investment, and Lending
The study confirmed that the agricultural sector suffers from a shortage of funds, and most of its funding depends on donors, who rarely coordinate with those in charge of agricultural policies in the Ministry of Agriculture.
It asserted that there is an urgent need for the presence of financing, investment and agricultural lending institutions, and loan guarantee funds. Nonetheless, they lack the necessary funding to operate them, which is supposed to be from the tax redemption funds that civil society organizations usually benefit from.
Marketing and Protecting the Local Product
The study said that the local markets suffer from systematic dumping of Israeli products through smuggling, especially in times of agricultural seasons, which deprives farmers of benefiting from those seasons and weakens their competitiveness.
It noted that the agricultural sector is facing a large deficit in water resources, despite the good amount of underground reservoirs mentioned in the Oslo Accords, which does not allow Palestinians to freely access them especially with the disruption of the joint committee to dig agricultural wells and the Israeli occupation’s control of water resources.
The study called to support farmers by providing the necessary machinery and equipment for digging agricultural wells and leveling lands and to work to compensate them for the damages caused as a result of the Israeli attacks, through the Agricultural Credit Corporation, the Fund for Risk Prevention and Agricultural Insurance based on the principle of equal opportunity.
The study concluded with recommendations directed to the Ministry of Agriculture, including building an agricultural database containing information related to producers, product varieties, ranks, prices, and production volumes of each type.
The recommendations extended to reach the necessity of establishing an electronic national market for Palestinian agricultural products, working on market openness, developing a fair marketing plan, and developing external transfers as well as increasing the support directed to farmers, especially in the Jordan Valley and classified (C) areas. The suggestion of the study is for this to be through greater activation of agricultural extension workers in the field and protection of farmers' lands from population encroachments, as well as by reducing fees imposed on agricultural inputs, and holding awareness seminars for farmers about the best ways to cultivate crops and make use of available water sources.
Finally, the study called on donors to provide easy financing sources for farmers and to provide loan guarantees for the establishment of pioneering agricultural projects, whether plant or animal. Agricultural industrialization projects are also an option as well as waste recycling and the use of solar energy to produce electricity projects.